Bloating. A feeling of fullness. Constipation. All of these can be symptoms of ovarian cancer. They can also be the result of a bad meal.
So, how do you distinguish between a simple case of indigestion and something more serious?
We talked with Pamela Soliman, M.D., associate professor in Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine, to learn more. Here are four things she wants every woman to know about ovarian cancer symptoms.
Don’t ignore vague symptoms
Symptoms of ovarian cancer can be vague, but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss them. Whether it’s a feeling of being bloated all the time, a constant sense of pressure in your pelvis, or just noticing that clothes feel tighter even though you can’t eat as much, pay attention to how long you experience these symptoms to determine whether they warrant a visit to the doctor.
“If something lasts for weeks and won’t go away — even with medication — you need to let your doctor know,” Soliman says.
Here are three of the most common ovarian cancer symptoms:
Bloating: Take note if it seems constant, doesn’t come and go, and can’t be explained by occasionally eating gas-producing foods. Tumors metabolize some of the nutrients you ingest, so your face may also appear thinner while your abdomen grows larger.
Abdominal discomfort: It could feel like acid reflux, a constant pain or a dull ache. This could also feel like pelvic pressure, which causes more-frequent urination.
Feeling of fullness: You can’t eat as much anymore, but your clothes still feel tight and you’re gaining weight. You may also be constipated.
Pay attention if you’re post-menopausal
Most, but not all, cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed in post-menopausal women. So, if you haven’t had a cycle in years, take note if you’re suddenly experiencing symptoms traditionally associated with menstruation, such as bloating, constipation or weight gain.
“The average age at the time of ovarian cancer diagnosis is between 50 and 60,” Soliman says. “So the normal hormonal fluctuations that can cause these symptoms in menstruating women are often no longer a factor.”
Ask for a diagnostic imaging scan
If you’re enduring persistent abdominal pain or pelvic discomfort, ask your doctor for a CT scan or another type of diagnostic imaging to determine the cause.
“Pelvic pain will generally get you a pelvic ultrasound, while pain in your upper abdomen will get you some kind of GI workup,” says Soliman. “This is to rule out gallstones and acid reflux.”
The most important thing to do if you suspect you might have ovarian cancer is to persist. Find a doctor who takes your concerns seriously, and keep pushing for answers until your questions are satisfied.
“Ovarian cancer symptoms are notoriously vague, but you know your own body best,” Soliman says. “So be persistent about advocating for yourself.”